Monday, July 21, 2014

Goodreads Giveaway July 21 - August 21

Check out the giveaway for my new YA book Swimmers on Goodreads! There are 10 copies available and it runs from July 21 - August 21. Thanks to Winston Stilwell at Red Deer Press for making this giveaway happen!

New book reviews will be up this week, including Emily Carroll's Through the Woods, Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki's This One Summer, the two Robert Galbraith mysteries, and Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend by Katie Finn (aka Morgan Matson). 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

After reading We Were Liars, I ordered E. Lockhart's The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. I'm a little late to reading the book; it was published in 2008, when it was also recognized as a Printz Honor Book and a National Book Award Finalist. I'd seen the cover at bookstores numerous times before - the original, baby blue cover with an envelope in the middle - so many times that I was actually sort of confident that I'd read it already. But when E. Lockhart's books dominated much of the discussion between teachers and librarians at the YA Lit Conference at Louisiana State University, especially The Disreputable History, I realized I had not, in fact, read it at all, and so I ordered it from the University of Lethbridge Bookstore about a week ago. 

Frankie Landau-Banks is a sophomore at the prestigious boarding school Alabaster, located on the east coast of the United States. Her older sister Zada graduated from the school the year before, and now she's headed to California to attend Berkeley. Zada was the key to Frankie feeling like she belonged at Alabaster in her freshman year: she sat with her sister at lunch, met some of the junior and senior students, and felt like she belonged at the school from the start. So by the time Zada leaves, Frankie is well established at the school and has friends of her own. And over the summer, she's transformed physically, as Lockhart describes, "Between May and September, she gained four inches and twenty pounds, all in the right places. Went from being a scrawny, awkward child with hands too big for her arms, a frizz of unruly brown fluff on her head, and a jaw so sharp it made Grandma Evelyn cluck about how 'When it comes to plastic surgery, it never hurts to do these things before college,' to being a curvaceous young woman with an offbeat look that boys found distinctly appealing" (5). At the end of the summer, she has a clue to how her new looks get her attention when she meets a boy on the beach who notices her in her string bikini and takes interest in the fact that she goes to Alabaster.

So when Frankie starts her sophomore year, she's getting the kind of attention that she has never gotten before, namely from senior Matthew Livingston. Frankie knows exactly what to say to him even though "Last year she had been unable to say two words when he was around" (34). They start dating and Frankie has high hopes for this year at Alabaster. That is, until she meets Matthew's best friend Alpha (nicknamed because he's the "Alpha Wolf" of their group, even though he's been away for a year attending public school), who just so happens to be the same boy who flirted with her on the beach at the end of the summer. He pretends not to know who she is, although Frankie knows he recognizes her. 

Frankie soon discovers that Matthew and Alpha are part of a secret Alabaster society called the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. It's an all-male group, and Frankie hates the feeling of being excluded. She begins to involve herself in the group without any of the members knowing, orchestrating pranks that the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds could never even dream up. 

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks is an incredible book, and Frankie is a character worth reading about. I loved reading about her infiltrating the all-male society, frustrated about traditional gender roles and the stringent rules imposed on males and females. There are some lovely paragraphs about Frankie navigating the space between how she wants to react and how she should react. For example, when her boyfriend Matthew gives her a compliment and she accepts it without feeling self-conscious, Matthew tells her he's glad she's not the kind of girl who can't take a compliment. Frankie doesn't think much about it at the time, but after Matthew leaves she reflects, "A tiny part of her wanted to go over to him and shout, 'I can feel like a hag some days if I want! And I can tell everybody about how insecure I am if I want! Or I can be pretty and pretend to think I'm a hag out of fake modesty - I can do that if I want, too. Because you, Livingston, are not the boss of me and what kind of girl I become" (79-80). 

E. Lockhart has quickly become one of my favorite authors writing YA lit, and I'm looking forward to reading some of her earlier publications over the summer. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Laura and Tom McNeal's Crooked is one of my favorite YA books of all time. I looked back through my book reviews and was so surprised that I haven't written about it yet here. Crooked is about Amos and Clara, and their perspectives duet in a complementary back-and-forth to tell the story. But after I read Crooked, I didn't really search out any other books by Laura and Tom McNeal. I think I read Zipped, but missed Crushed. Tom McNeal writes several books on his own, without his wife Laura, and Far Far Away is his latest. I had heard about it, and had seen the striking cover on display a few times at Chapters. It was a reminder of how much I had liked Crooked and I thought I would give it a try.

Far Far Away follows young teenage protagonist Jeremy Johnson Johnson, who lives in the strange and quiet town of Never Better. He lives with his father over a bookshop opened by his grandfather, which only stocks his grandfather's autobiography. Jeremy's attic room is filled with books, especially the fairy tale stories that his mother loved. In fact, his mother's fate is straight out of a fairy tale: when she takes a bite of a fabled cake, she falls in love with the first person she sees and leaves Jeremy and his father in Never Better while she takes off to Canada. The fairy tale theme makes fitting the narrator of this novel: the ghost of Jacob Grimm, who talks to Jeremy and tries to figure out what will help him to move on to where his brother is. He dedicates himself to Jeremy, helping him write tests and answer questions, and also keeping an eye out for the Finder of Occasions, a mysterious individuals who is searching for the right occasion to bring harm to Jeremy. 

For me, the tone just never felt right for this book. I've seen it described as "timeless" by several reviewers, but it was that attempt at "timelessness" that was so frustrating to me. It is very keenly set in a contemporary time and place, yet there are aspects of the language, characters, and plot that are so clearly not contemporary, and I found that those two forces continuously tug-of-warred. I like fairy tales and I like unconventional narrators, but not in the way that they were presented here. 

But reading Far Far Away reminded me of just how much I loved Crooked, and once I dig my old copy out, I'm going to give it a re-read and post a review here instead. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Since You've Been Gone by Morgan Matson

Morgan Matson's Since You've Been Gone has my favorite cover art of any spring or summer publications I've seen out this year, and was the reason I picked it up at the bookstore a few days ago. I didn't think I knew anything about Matson when I bought the book - really, it was all about the cover art. But I started to fill in the pieces in a coincidental way, before I'd even started reading. 

My sister actually got to Since You've Been Gone before I did, because unlike me, she was actually quite familiar with Matson. Matson's second book, Second Chance Summer, is one of my sister's favorite books, and as soon as she saw Matson's name on the cover of this new book, she wanted to read it right away. Meanwhile, I had been doing some research on road trip YA books - Paper Towns, Going Bovine, Lost at Sea, and As Easy as Falling Off the Face of the Earth - when I came across the recommendation of Matson's first novel, Amy and Roger's Epic Detour. Matson's identity as a YA author came together in fairly short order, and all through this new publication, Since You've Been Gone. Since finishing the book, I've also learned that Matson also writes under the name "Katie Finn," so that the new publication Broken Hearts, Fences and Other Things to Mend is actually another one of Matson's books. I've seen the cover all over the place in different bookstores, and added it to my Amazon wishlist a few days ago (Matson's books have really good cover art). 

Since You've Been Gone was a perfect book to read at the beginning of the summer, because it's really a summer book. It takes place between June and August, neatly wrapped up in that hot handful of months. Emily is excited about the summer she's going to have with her best friend Sloane, a teenage girl who moved to town a few years ago and yanked Emily out of her shy, quiet routine. Now the two of them are a package deal, making sure that they get summer jobs at the same place and making plans for parties at the Orchard. But this year, Sloane isn't going to be spending the summer with Emily. She disappears suddenly in June, leaving Emily with a list of thirteen things to do without her. They include straightforward instructions ("go skinny-dipping" "steal something") and also quizzical imperatives ("55 S. Ave. Ask for Mona" "Penelope"). Unable to do anything else about Sloane's disappearance, Emily dutifully begins making her way through the list, hoping that by the time she gets to the end she will have her best friend back. 

But the list does something that Emily isn't expecting. Instead of closing off her world - she feels like she'll be lost without Sloane - it actually opens it up again. She becomes friends with several unlikely candidates, including Frank Porter, the A+ student at her school who is working at an indoor climbing wall for the summer, despite the fact that he's terrified of heights. Slowly, Emily's new friends help her work her way through the list. But will Sloane be waiting at the end of it?

I loved Since You've Been Gone. It had the feeling of a Deb Caletti or a Sarah Dessen book, something you know is going to be a good read by the author name alone. And you know it's going to be at least a little bit of a romance, and a little bit of a find-yourself book, and a little bit of a summer adventure. I'll be reading Second Chance Summer next (which I know my sister has), and then I'm going to get to Amy and Roger and the new Broken Hearts. Matson will be one of the authors whose new publications I will watch out for year after year. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Feed by M.T. Anderson

M.T. Anderson was another of the many authors at the NCTE conference in Boston this past November. I always feel like I read a fair amount every year, but that doesn't really do anything to diminish the books on my wishlist, where three of Anderson's books have been hanging out for the past few years: the two volumes of Octavian Nothing and Feed. One of my favorite aspects of the NCTE conference is that fact that for any author speaking at the conference, their publisher brings in a selection of their books to sell. I met M.T. Anderson after his panel discussion, and picked up all three books that I'd been wanting to read, and have slowly been reading them over the last few months. 

Feed was one of those books that I'd heard a lot about (buzz, recommendations, good things!), but didn't know much about (plot, setting, content!). I zipped through it once the story got going, a mix between dystopian and sci-fi with a teenage twist. The book is set in a future where citizens are implanted with a chip that consistently feeds in entertainment, music, news, others' memories, information, and advertising. When protagonist Titus and his friends head to the Moon for a night of partying, their feeds are compromised and they end up in the hospital to recover. For the first time in their lives, their feeds go quiet as the hack into the digital system is investigated by doctors and other agents. When they are in the hospital, Titus connects with Violet, a teenage girl who hasn't had her feed for as long as Titus and his friends have. And when she leaves the hospital, she discovers that her feed hasn't been fixed. Not entirely. It continues to malfunction and compromise her health and her life. 

For all of the opulence and expense described in Feed, the technological improvements and development are not at all benign. There is mass pollution happening, and Titus describes the way that he and his friends have developed lesions all over their bodies from the atmosphere. But rather than seeing the lesions as a mark of the poisonous environment, Titus's friends instead wear their lesions like accessories, even cutting fake ones in across their necks and shoulders. Consumerism and advertising (and Anderson's critique of both) are at the heart of the novel, heightened by the feed, the perfect tool for the dissemination of product placement. 

Anderson's representations of Titus and his friends are outstanding and inventive, especially Titus's best friend Link, who is a clone of Abraham Lincoln.There is also Quendy, a teenage girl who competes with Calista (Link's girlfriend) throughout the novel, plastering herself with lesions when Calista cuts extras into her skin. The teenage characters are products of their situation, and they do not change or grow from the beginning to the end of the novel. Titus lets Violet down utterly. Their consumption only increases as the environment fades, and the economy starts to crumble. It's the futuristic version of The Great Gatsby, a replication of the 1920s before the crash of the 1930s. 

The writing in this book is vivid, adopting a futuristic slang and structure. And it comes with one of the best opening lines in YA literature: "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck" (3). And the chapters titles are pretty great, too.